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No Fly Nöel 2018

December 27, 2018

2018 was an interesting year for travel. We stayed close to our 20 trip goal (miraculous), but still managed to hit Argentina, Africa, the Bahamas, New Zealand, and Australia, not to mention a bunch of domestic travel. From the highest winery on the planet, to walking on the Serengeti. Pretty not bad.

Here is the trip-o-meter for 2018.

Because of all of the international flying, we racked up lots of United frequent flyer miles. It will be interesting to see how this goes in 2019 now that we are finished with the silicon valley corporation (whose travel policies, frankly, sucked). Our best bet is less Germany and more Europe this year, but we shall see. We may miss Nuremberg, but we won’t miss the reason for going there!

2018 was our first trip in international First class. Here is our report.

The United lifetime ticker stands at 1,736,206 miles. Yowza. Hopefully our 146,879 miles will keep us in Global Services next year.

Sadly, our love affair with Kimpton is over. Kimpton just became too IHG too fast to retain any loyalty. Oh well, we will miss our great industry friends who I am sure we’ll see from time to time.

Just remember the rule! NO PLASTIC SHOWERS!

Somehow in this case the word “Rydges” connotes cheap condoms from a gas station vending machine. We’re traveling with a group, and that means little control over situations that NPS usually has a strict handle on. No worries, we were assigned the second best room category on the Rydges South Bank property with a balcony overlooking the river. Room 1116 is a bit cramped, but not bad.

Except for the part where it is connected by a very thin door to the suite next door where an asshole is hosting an all night party. The party involved yelling, loud conversation, noisy sex, door slamming, and more! At least the party wound down for a bit about 1:15am when we called management and they had a chat with the noisy people. But then at 5am it all started again with speaker phone conversations and more loud asshole.

Basically, I guess we’ve decided that the wrong class of people frequents this hotel. That makes Rydges more of a “Walmart-shopper style salesperson on a bender with some hookers” hotel. Or maybe it is only the ridiculous Christmas revelry sweeping the city.

Whatever. We fixed things the next morning after no sleep. Rydges can and does do better!

Brisbane, on the other hand is a great place to visit.

We went to Koala-land (Lone Pine Koala sanctuary) after we ditched our bags at the hotel. Well worth a visit. Just don’t plan to eat any food there. Really. Captive audience means super bad food, even by zoo standards.

Kangaroo

We did the obligatory koala picture.

Koala picture from Lone Pine

About which…

And then it was back to the hotel to shower before cocktail hour (crammed into a tiny bathroom).

Not much room, but the shower is glass

Two people can’t use this sink at one time (unless one is on the john)

River view and a cute balcony

We had fantastic Negroni’s made with Four Pillars gin at Wickham with Rachel. Also gathered data for later cocktail shenanigans. (Skip eleven rooftop bar unless you like fake glitz and dated DJ music.)

Dinner at Caravanserai was very good indeed. Authentic Turkish in a funky noisy boisterous atmosphere. Nice. Just don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine to drink on your way in.

Caravanserai

Then ride the wheel for a dash of too much AC before bed.

The Wheel

Two showerheads and a fervent hope that the asshole next door gets a cosmic comeuppance for Rydges phase one. Things got better!

Right, so we flew from New Zealand which was pretty much of a paradise to a big city in Australia on purpose. That’s how it goes sometimes! Fortunately, Sydney turns out to be a great place for a look around.

We must say that the so-called “partnership” between United Airlines and Air New Zealand is utterly useless. No star alliance perqs here. Just middle seats in economy. Not impressed at all with the Air New Zealand experience. Global services my ass.

Anyway, we arrived and cabbed basically across town to the Sydney Hilton.

Any loyal reader of NPS knows that these kinds of big, industrial hotel chains are not our cup of tea. But we’re here on business and the hotel choice is out of our control. The Hilton is a nice property and it is centrally locaded, so that’s all good.

On arrival, our room category (which I believe turned out to be the “crappy” category) was not available, so we went and got some ramen. The front desk staff was helpful and friendly about the delay. Thanks SooYeon.

Ramen at Yasaka Ramen was authentic and delicious, but super heavy. Be forewarned.

Ramen in Sydney

When we returned about an hour later (after coffee at Doppio which we highly recommend), our room was ready. We were assigned hamster cage 2203.

Lets just be cheerful about the whole thing and call it “cramped.” We have so much stuff in tow on our 25 day trip, that there was not even room to stash our luggage.

No room for walking in 2203

This is as far away from the bed as the camera can get. LOL.

The bathroom is likewise very tiny.

But the shower was at least glass!

If you are a hamster or some other kind of tiny rodent, this is the room category for you. Sure it’s free. Yup.

Two showerheads for the “crappy” room category at the Sydney Hilton. Just don’t.

Fortunately, after a walk around the botanical gardens, we ambled right back into the lobby and switched ourselves up to a Relaxation Suite. Apparently there are 16 such rooms available on this property. For more, see part two!

Leaving the South Island for Aukland

Sadly, Air New Zealand has a pathetic (almost non-existent) partnership with United Airlines. Global Services? Whatevs. NPS got to experience a coveted middle seat in the back of the plane on the hop between Queenstown and Aukland.

Were we pleased? HA!

But we did get to Aukland eventually (and late). We do highly recommend the professional and courteous Blacklane car service to get around from the airport.

By the time we got to the Aukland Sofitel, we were running slightly late for our 8:30 dinner reservation at Lava (which as it turns out is in the hotel).

Sofitel lobby is modern and stylish

We were assigned 608, a very small room with a very nice view of the harbor. Just don’t try walking around. Stuffy is the right word.

The bed dominates 608 which seems higher than it is wide

The view can’t be beat

Boats

The bathroom is well appointed and nicely sized, though nothing special. The shower itself had seen better days inside. More attention to detail is in order so that everything is in order.

Lava is a nice place to eat, especially if you are in your 70’s. Old school, slightly stuffy with an undertrained and not very attentive staff. The food was creative and good but well overpriced for the experience itself. Seems that the pastry chef is the best person on the staff at the moment. Just go for dessert.

But about that view.

One way

Or another

Three showerheads and less stuffiness in terms of architecture. Very corporate and old school in all the wrong ways.

Two years ago, we experienced some four showerhead luxury on Amelia Island off the coast of Florida. We’re back for another corporate event (the BSIMM Community Conference), once again with no spare time.

This time United upgraded both legs in and out. Global Services privileges are a good thing.

Great news about the Ritz-Carlton is that they’ve added a much better bar since we were here last. Better selection, and more importantly, bartenders who know what they’re doing.

Sadly, NPS was demoted from 832 (the huge Presidential Suite) to 432 for this visit. The 2018 room had a nice ocean balcony and was a very nice room in its own right. It just was not palacial.

432 has a long double balcony overlooking the Atlantic

Bedroom

Sitting room

Like last time, we were greeted on arrival on the property (in the hotel car service) by the staff. Really fun! Champagne and treats. Woo hoo!

Honey from the very local hives

Goodies included a cocktail book and a jigger made of salt

Sparkling water because someone pays attention

The 432 suite has two bathrooms.

Entrance hallway with a small bathroom

The bathroom itself is nicely appointed. Showers are not plastic.

The anteway entrance to the main bathroom has plenty of room

This is very likely the last Amelia Island corporate visit for NPS. Four showerheads again, and kudos for the bar upgrade. If you are into the luxurious big giant conference hotel thing, this is a strong iteration.

no fly July

July 3, 2018

Last year’s plan to cut down on travel was a resounding failure. NPS blew the target of 20 trips by just about 50%. 29 trips was too many. Not that they were not fun.
They were fun. They were just too many.

Too many trips in 2017

Several years ago, to keep sane, NPS instituted “no fly July” and “no fly Nöel” both of which remain in effect. No fly July started 3 days ago!

To give you some idea of how important taking a travel break is, consider these numbers from the United pile of travel. NPS has already qualified for 100K in 2019 and the year is not even halfway complete. Yeah, I would imagine we’ll retain our global services status.

So far we’ve been to: San Francisco twice, NY, Boston, LA, Ann Arbor, Germany twice, Austria, Sweden, Argentina, Uruguay, and London.

So yes, we will be not flying for a month. See you in August.

A grande dame is what this place is, like one of those powdered but slightly too made up, overly attentive birdlike old ladies with a string of natural pearls. The problem is that the perfume is cloying. Frankly, this is a beautiful property if you’re into this kind of old money faded elegance, but, you see, we’re not.

Set in the heart of La Jolla by the Pacific, the Grande Colonial is an institution. It has been here so long that it rests comfortably on its laurels. The staff is ultra professional, engaging and extremely well trained. The common areas are luxurious in an old school way. The restaurant nine-ten has been very good for so long that NPS has even dined here multiple times. The chef is named Jason.

I was assigned suite 102 overlooking the pool and a parking lot. That kind of says it all. Parking lot?

102 entry and seating area

The shape of the room is strange. There are mirrors everywhere, even where they don’t belong. But it’s not a hamster cage!

seating area by the heater presided over by the giant TV

a comfortable poofy bed

The colors and muted and the style is dated in a vertical striped sort of way.

nope

The shower is a plastic tub with an obesity bar. Fortunately the shower curtain is not plastic, but still. These kinds of showers do nobody any good out there in the world. Lets replace them all. 1950s tile is cool.

A nightcap at the bar involved a Corpse Reviver #2 made by muscle memory with no sign of measurement. The non-measurement is a problem, because to do its magic, this drink must be precise. But everyone at the bar was very professional and friendly even as they slung drinks like they had done it forever.

Breakfast by the ocean was excellent. Sadly, it did take place on east coast time.

After mandatory conference fun was complete, we headed down to San Diego for dinner and a nightcap. A visit to Jsix was unremarkable and good. Funny that we had never tried Jsix before, because it is situated in the Salomar Hotel property chunk.

After dinner, Noble Experiment was on the docket. As always, the cocktails were remarkably delicious.

Here’s how to make a drink we invented called Bill’s Big Birthday Beverage:
1 oz cardamaro
1 oz ancho reyes
1 oz fresh orange juice
2 dashes habanero shrub (bittermens)
shake, serve on a big cube. no garnish.

In the meantime, three showerheads and a new perfume choice for Grande Colonial.

(Oh, and United airlines…I will not be flying you across the country any more after the return trip. Economy plus sucks on a cross continental route, even in an exit row aisle seat.)